“It’s good to be home.”
Eugene McGuire, 58, formerly of Lake Winola, but now living in Texas, on Sunday night acknowledged to a packed Tunkhannock Area High School auditorium his heartfelt thanks to be safely back in the school he left as a sophomore in the spring of 1977, and expecting to be back that fall.
Instead just a couple of weeks after the end of the spring term, McGuire got caught up in an incident that would change his life forever.
It was on June 16, when McGuire, then 17, and his stepbrother were to stand outside the old Marine Room Tavern at Lake Winola while a favored cousin from New Jersey stepped inside to rob the bartender so the three of them could have a little fun.
Something went wrong and his cousin killed Mrs. Isabelle Nagy.
“My first mistake was letting my cousin convince my mom that we should even be going out late at night,” McGuire said, admonishing the mostly adult crowd, “If you’re a parent here don’t ever let your children tell you what to do.”
“He had no right to take Mrs. Nagy’s life, and I had no right to even think about being there,” he added.
McGuire exclaimed, “There is no reason but by the grace of God that I am here tonight.”
He then proceeded to share his testimony about spending nearly 35 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, and much of the experience was told in graphic detail.
McGuire told the crowd he got an attorney and started to realize the significance of being a part of a life that was taken away.
He said he realized quickly there would be no prom or graduation in his future
Instead he listened to his attorney, whom McGuire believe that “If I plead guilty, I’ll be out in 10 years.”
Then six months later he appeared before Wyoming County Judge Roy Gardner who told him: “I’m sentencing you to life in prison with no chance of parole.”
McGuire remembered being taken away to Camp Hill for processing into the state prison system on his 18th birthday.
He said he was labeled AK4192, and suddenly realized that was his future.
For the first six or seven years he related that he was getting adjusted to his state in life, and then a “woe is me” mentality set in and he started fighting.
That would change, and then in 1986 when he attended a Prison Invasion evangelistic rally, he started having some major questions.
“I had no idea of what eternal life meant, but I knew I was in prison for life,” he said recalling someone saying, “Real men make commitments.”
McGuire said that a man by the name of Larry Titus came up to him to explain the Christian message.
“He didn’t know my life was a real mess, but he had enough love to reach out to me, and that meant something.”
It was a life changing moment for McGuire, who suddenly realized that for him to accept Christ into his life, he had to acknowledge that he was forgiven.
But he also spoke to the importance of finally taking responsibility for oneself, and particularly to being teachable and correctable.
He spoke of seeking commutation for his prison sentence on five different occasions after being in prison for 11 years, 12 years, 17 years, 24 years, and then 30 years, and at every juncture being denied parole by Pennsylvania’s governor.
In every instance, despite being told “No,” he thanked God for his station in life and being given a grateful heart.
Three months after receiving his last notice that parole was again being denied, “I suddenly found myself back in Wyoming County court,” he said, the result of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision which held that the U.S. Constitution did not permit a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for a non-homicide crime.
McGuire said that 20 months later he was back in Tunkhannock and not sure when he would be released.
When President Judge Russell Shurtleff said that McGuire had served the maximum sentence of 34 years, nine months and 15 days, and he was being released that day, he realized he was a free man but not sure what to do with it.
He said he figured it out, and has been grateful that God has let him share his testimony.
“It is because of Him, that I am here,” McGuire said, thanking the audience for its attentiveness.
(McGuire also had been on the school grounds last October when he addressed high school students in a forum that had been closed to the public. Organizers of Sunday night’s talk including Donald Davis, who was McGuire’s freshman football coach 42 years ago, and present teacher John Shaffer and dozens of others, all agreed McGuire’s story deserved to be heard by the larger community.)